After a week that started with a 12:0 loss to Spain in their opening Group Game, the Ireland Women’s Under 18 Fastpitch Softball team overcame this set back to win a magnificent Bronze medal at the European Championships held in Prague defeating Netherlands in an edge of the seat Bronze final. Their victory also secured a coveted place at the U18 World Cup in 2024.
The Irish team was one of the youngest teams at the tournament, with an average age of 15 & half with 10 out of the 13 players on the roster eligible for the next edition of the tournament in 2025.
The turning point of the tournament for Ireland came on the second day of the group stage as an unfancied Ireland beat higher ranked Germany 13:7 following this just four hours later by beating Great Britain 8:5 in the night game. With a win against Hungary on Day 3 of the tournament and Great Britain’s victory over Spain, Ireland secured a place in the top 8 and progressed to the elite round as a second seed in search of a medal.
Ireland could not have asked for a tougher elite round as they took on the number 1 ranked team in Europe, Italy, number 2 ranked the Netherlands and number 8 ranked Israel. Under the format of the tournament, Ireland knew one win would secure a place in the medal round and a top 6 ranking, but realistically 2 wins would be very helpful to keep gold medal chances alive.
Though losing both their games to the Netherlands and Italy 7:0, Ireland showed it was capable of mixing it with the best in Europe who on average were 2 years older than the Irish team. A key game for Ireland was its contest with Israel and though it remained close at the start, Ireland pushed on to win 16:6 and in-turn, secure a place in the Super Round and continue its pursuit for a medal.
Ireland started the Super Round with a resounding 18:0 win over the Ukraine, guaranteeing the team a minimum 5th place finish at the tournament, and leaving Ireland still chasing a medal. Day 6 of the tournament was going to decide Ireland’s faith and standing in our way of playing for a Bronze medal was Great Britain who themselves needed to beat Ireland to reach the Bronze medal game.
I am so proud of what this young team has achieved, they never gave up fighting for their country, their family and themselves. They did everything we could ask of them as coaches and deserve to be going home with a medal and a place in the 2024 World Cup. I am so excited about the future of Irish Softball.Melanie Cunningham, U18 WNT Head Coach, Director of Fastpitch Ireland
Great Britain, still smarting from their loss earlier in the tournament, threw everything at Ireland in the first few innings of the game, but Ireland dominated from start to finish, winning 10:1 and run-ruling the Great Britain team in the 5th inning. A loss to hosts Czech that evening, confirmed that Ireland would once again play Netherlands for a Bronze medal and a place at the 2024 World Cup.
On a wet Saturday afternoon in Prague, nobody other than the Irish ourselves thought that history would be made. The Netherlands, a powerhouse in European Softball, a country that medals at almost every age grade tournament, a team that on average was 2 years older per player and having beaten Ireland earlier in the tournament, were hit early by the young Irish team as we jumped out to a 2:0 and then 3:1 lead. The Netherlands team were too good not to come back, and took control of the game to lead Ireland 5:3 after 5 innings.
This young Ireland team was not done and fought to wrestle back control of the game, scoring 2 runs in the top of the 6th inning and leveling the game at 5-5. However, the Dutch immediately hit back in the bottom of the 6th, scoring a run to reclaim the lead which left Ireland facing defeat with only the top of 7th inning left to play.
As was the nature of this epic game and this tournament, this young, brave and fearless team did not shy away from the challenge and forced in the equalizing run and then held the Dutch scoreless in the bottom of the 7th inning to force extra innings.
Onto extra innings we go!
The game reached new levels of excitement and stress as Ireland struck first in the top of the 8th inning to score a crucial run putting Ireland ahead 7:6, leaving the Dutch needing to score at least 1 run to keep the game going.
The Irish team’s solid defense closed the door on a Dutch comeback with a breathtaking and ESPN Web Gem top 10 worthy diving catch by the Irish third base player on a bunt and two well-executed groundouts, bringing the Dutch comeback to an end, earning Ireland the victory, punching our ticket to the WBSC World Cup and starting celebrations that are still going!